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From the Archives: Marilyn Bell Park

Aug 27, 2015

New viewing platforms cantilever over the water’s edge to provide great views to both the east and the west of the city’s waterfront.

New viewing platforms cantilever over the water’s edge to provide great views to both the east and the west of the city’s waterfront. Today we take a look back at one of the early projects that Waterfront Toronto (then known as “Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation”) undertook to improve the water’s edge.

By Christopher McKinnon

If you’ve ever walked west of Ontario Place along the waterfront, you’ll find a string of grassy, open parks that stretch all the way to Sunnyside Beach and the Humber River. The boardwalk and trails through Marilyn Bell Park are a particular favourite for runners, joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists. Perhaps you’ve paused along the boardwalk or on one of the viewing platforms to watch people canoeing, kayaking, rowing and dragon boating.

And yet, it wasn’t always so. Fifteen years ago, the water’s edge at Marilyn Bell Park was not a people place. The pavement was broken and the asphalt was cracked. The landscaping (what there was of it) was uninspiring. And, perhaps most depressingly, a road and fencing ran along the shoreline effectively cutting the parkland off from the water’s edge.

Before: Broken pavement and cracked asphalt at Marilyn Bell Park.Before: The road and fencing that ran along the shoreline effectively cut the parkland off from the water’s edge.

Before it was revitalized, Marilyn Bell Park was cut off from the water by a road. 
 

After: The new boardwalk, promenade and viewing platforms at Marilyn Bell Park.After: The new section of the Martin Goodman Trail.

After revitalization, Marilyn Bell Park was ready for the international stage – hosting the 2006 IDBF World Club Crew Championships.

In October 2005, Waterfront Toronto announced improvements to Marilyn Bell Park – including a new boardwalk, promenade, viewing platforms, the Western Beaches Watercourse, a new section of the Martin Goodman Trail and new terrestrial and aquatic habitat – which was the first major construction project the corporation would undertake.

The improvements were designed by the Toronto landscape architectural firm Victor Ford and Associates Inc. The Martin Goodman Trail along Lake Shore Boulevard, flanked by large shade trees, was the first section to open in the spring of 2006. That summer, the road along the water’s edge was replaced with a new section of multi-use trail, converting it to a car-free space. Along the water, we installed a 4.5-metre-wide promenade made of concrete pavers and a boardwalk made of ipe wood. Viewing platforms, new lighting and seating areas, new trees and some plantings of long grasses and perennials rounded out the redesigned park. 

The new boardwalk and viewing platforms looking west towards Mimico.

The new boardwalk and viewing platforms, also built out of ipe wood, were a welcome improvement to the water’s edge. Ipe wood has become part of the waterfront’s signature look, letting visitors know these are public spaces. It’s the same material used to build our WaveDecks and custom benches.
 

The landscaping near the new boardwalk and viewing platforms looking west.

Plantings of tall grasses and perennial flowers make for low-maintenance, yet still very attractive, landscaping.
 

One of the teams competing in the Great White North Dragon Boat Challenge. (Image by HimySyed from LocalWiki)

The Great White North Dragon Boat Challenge is just one of the annual events that uses the Western Beaches Watercourse at Marilyn Bell Park. (Image by HimySyed from LocalWiki)

Everything was ready for the big day – in August 2006, the Western Beaches Watercourse at Marilyn Bell Park played host to an important international dragon boat competition – the 2006 IDBF World Club Crew Championships. Since then, a number of elite dragon boat competitions have been held at the park, including the 2008 Dragon Boat Canada National Championships and the 2011 ICF Club Crew Dragon Boat World Championships. The world-class facility serves as a training ground for a variety of paddle sports and continues to play host to a number of national and international competitions every year.

The final phase of the improvements, including 370 more metres of trail, improvements to the Baily Bridge and removal of some unsightly chain link fencing were completed in 2007. Today, eight years later, Marilyn Bell Park’s redesign has made it one of the great waterfront places that Toronto can be proud of.

post contributor

  • Christopher McKinnon

    Christopher McKinnon was previously a communications and public engagement Manager at Waterfront Toronto. He’s passionate about art, cycling in the city, public transit and building really amazing parks.